Published on August 17, 2015

‘Nutrition Detectives’ fan out across Cape Cod‘Nutrition Detectives’ fan out across Cape Cod

“My mom used to buy Fruit Loops and Graham Crackers, but now she knows not to. She buys organic foods.”

“I take the information from school to home, and now when my mom and I go to the grocery store, we always look at the labels and realize some of the food we used to buy is bad for you.”

“Now that I am eating healthier, I won’t get fat or too hyper from the sugar.”

“I told my closest friend about food labels, and he did not understand me. But, I taught him day by day, and now he gets it.”


Students at Wellfleet Elementary School sit around a table, examining the labels on the cereal boxes Lisa Bushy has placed in front of them.

“What is the No. 1 clue?” she asks.

“Sugar,” the students exclaim.

“The box is like a commercial,” Bushy tells them.

“Sugar clogs up your system,” one student notes. “It clogs up your arteries,” Bushy clarifies.

These students, and dozens? hundreds? like them, are reporting in as “Nutrition Detectives,” part of a rapidly expanding corps across Cape Cod.

Watch students at Wellfleet Elementary School discuss their Nutrition Detective findings with Cape Cod Healthcare’s Lisa Bushy.


The nationwide program teaches students how to make healthy food choices by learning to read food labels, identify unhealthy ingredients and detect marketing inconsistencies.

By empowering children with the correct knowledge and strategies to maintain a healthy lifestyle, they also become nutritional ambassadors among their family and friends.

“Good place for a quote,” says Bushy, who works for the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod, part of Cape Cod Healthcare, which runs the local version of the program.

After a pilot in 2012, and the VNA program has grown to include Truro, Chatham, Dennis and Orleans as well as Wellfleet. More than 300 students have successfully completed the course and graduated to “Nutrition Detectives.”

Five clues

The class comes naturally to Bushy, who has a degree in nutrition and works with adults and children across the Cape to promote healthy eating and disease prevention.

The program uses colorful cartoons and images to convey the concept of healthful eating and how it can be challenging in our modern environment. It shows children how food packages can be deceptive, and how they can us “Nutrition Facts” labels to make better choices.

And the program gives them five clues to make healthful food choices by using food labels and ingredient lists on packaged foods:

  1. Don’t be fooled by the BIG letters on the front of the package. Look for the small letters on the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list.
  2. The first ingredient on the list is always the BIGGEST.
  3. Avoid foods that contain partially hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup.
  4. Avoid foods with a long ingredients list.
  5. Fiber is your friend. Beware of whole grain imposters. Choose breads, cereals, granola bars, crackers and pasta with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.

The children learn to look for key ingredients, such as partially hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, and fiber. After learning the clues, the children work in teams as part of a hands-on

“spying on food labels” game. Each team searches through a bag of groceries filled with packaged foods.

Each bag contains both “clued-in” (healthful) and “clueless” (less healthful) food products. The children decide which foods fit into each category.

Bushy gives her young sleuths comprehensive lists to take home with them that break down many of the most common foods in the house into “Clued-In” and “Clue-Less” choices.

The lists are very specific, in effect endorsements of actual brands. For example, when it comes to breads, the Clued-In list includes Arnold Healthy Classics Multi-Grain, but the Clue-Less list cites Arnold’s 100% Whole Wheat.

The Nutrition Detectives program was designed by Yale University professor Dr. David Katz, an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management and the prevention of chronic disease in children. He also serves as president of the non-profit Turn the Tide Foundation that works to stem the tide of childhood obesity.

It has been evaluated by the Yale Griffin Prevention Research Center with proven effectiveness and successfully reviewed in a study funded by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To bring the Nutrition Detectives program to your school, please contact Lisa Bushy at the Visiting Nurse Association, part of Cape Cod Healthcare, at 508-957-7616.